Yesterday morning, I exited Bond Street tube station and was surprised to see a crowd of people gathered around the Disney Store on the opposite side of the road. Closer inspection revealed that the entrance was being guarded by three Stormtroopers, ahead of the midnight launch of the Star Wars Episode 7 official merchandise.
The last time the Disney Store caught my eye was when it had a window display for the Marvel movie Avengers: Age of Ultron which was noticeably missing the key character of Black Widow… as were all of the toys in the merchandise range that was on display inside the store. My friends and and I weren’t the only ones outraged by this – Ben Kuchera wrote a piece for Polygon on the subject, mentioning Disney’s ‘abysmal record when it comes to products for women characters in properties not exclusively marketed to little girls’, and Kat Brown wrote for the Telegraph on Marvel (who are owned by Disney) inexplicably replacing Black Widow with Captain America in toys representing her key Quinjet scene:
The Quinjet chase scene saw Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, flying the team’s jet, out of which drops Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) riding a motorbike.
However, in the Cycle Quinjet toy set, her coolest moment – so cool that it made the trailer – sees her replaced by Captain America, who she is en route to rescue in the film.
As you might imagine, I was curious to see if Disney had actually listened to all this feedback and so, this morning, I ventured into the Disney Store to see if the merchandise for The Force Awakens was worth the fanfare. I’m happy to report that, on first impressions, this range looks very good indeed. There are toys, action figures, garments and accessories aimed at a broad range of ages and nothing is segregated in store by gender, or coloured pink/blue. The strong female character Rey is represented on a neutral grey t-shirt and in action figure form (see below), and I also spotted a great fancy dress costume for kids based on Princess Leia’s iconic white outfit in A New Hope.
None of this was labelled “for girls”, just as the other clothing and costumes – including a fantastic fluffy hoodie inspired by Chewbacca – were not labelled as being exclusively “for boys”. Everything felt very true to the Star Wars universe and any parent who was a fan of the original trilogy will probably be as thrilled to buy these products as their children will be to receive them.
This may seem like a very small thing to worry about but, after years of seeing the gender neutral toys of my childhood – like Lego – being marketed in separate pink versions for girls, this feels like a significant step towards letting kids decide for themselves what they want. Not only does this range remove society’s unnecessary gender stereotyping, but it also gives young girls some toys of a movie role model who I’m sure they will aspire to. Of course, that depends on whether the movie is actually any good and we have to wait until December to find out.